Things aren’t going well in
The international community is squarely in favor of declaring this a coup and having Zelaya returned to power. The Honduran Congress, armed forces, Supreme Court, and many of its people refuse to allow it. Just yesterday when Zelaya (unwisely) chose to try to return on (again, unwisely) a Venezuelan jet, he was turned back by the military blocking the airport.
Meanwhile, the OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza is engaging in shuttle diplomacy, going between the different actors in the Honduran capital,
Before laying out my position on this, to avoid any confusion at a time (and in a region) where people like to ideologically pigeonhole others and claim that one or the other is not on the “side of freedom,” let me say the following in as direct a fashion as possible:
A new hopeful has joined the presidential race in Colombia. Germán Vargas, 47, the former leader of the center-right Radical Change party last week officially launched his long expected bid to become Colombia’s next president in 2010.
A lawyer, veteran political mover and shaker and former senator, Vargas has stood faithfully by President Álvaro Uribe over the years. He led a successful coalition that helped bring Uribe first to power in 2002, and then backed his reelection. But this time around, Vargas won’t be supporting a possible third Uribe reelection.
What makes Vargas different from other candidates is that he is not on standby like presidential frontrunner, Juan Manuel Santos, who has said he will withdraw from the race if Uribe chooses to run for a third consecutive term. Vargas is eyeing the presidency whatever Uribe’s final decision may be. “I’m an Uribista (supporter of Uribe) but not a re-electionist,” Vargas said recently.
Over the years, Vargas has staunchly backed Uribe’s Democratic and Social Security policy that centers on a military defeat of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas. “I will defend with full rights and conviction the enormous achievements that the Democratic Security Policy has achieved,” Vargas said during his opening campaign speech.
Vargas is a known hardliner who adopts the same resolve and tone when talking about crushing the guerrillas as Uribe does. And like Uribe, Vargas has no plans to negotiate with the FARC. “That isn’t feasible. They (the FARC) lost their chance. There is no way to have a successful peace process and that is what they don’t understand,” Vargas told La Semana magazine. He added his strategy would be to “fight them until the end.”
But while he is keen to bill himself as an heir to Uribe’s Democratic and Social policy, he also brands himself as a politician who will defend Colombia’s poor and vulnerable, as part of what he calls is a much-needed “profound social transformation” in Colombia. He is keen to hark back to his liberal roots under the guidance of Luis Carlos Galán, a popular Colombian liberal leader who was assassinated in the late 1980s. Vargas’s ideology, though, belongs to more to the center-right.
During his opening campaign speech, Vargas focused on a checklist of Colombia’s woes—the country’s 3 million displaced, its 22 million poor, rising unemployment, and rural poverty. He promises to deliver greater health and education coverage and is convinced the lack of infrastructure is holding back progress in Colombia.
This all sounds good. But Colombians have heard these promises before. As a public speaker, Vargas is disappointing and tends to come across as someone with a lack of conviction and sensitivity. And when he does become passionate, he appears conflictive. So far, Vargas has offered little insightful reflection or a vision for Colombia’s future following his recent weeks-long tour of the country. His campaign slogan, “Better is possible” is ambiguous as it is uninspiring.
Just a few years ago, there was a lot of hype about Vargas, and most local pundits believed him to be the clear favorite to succeed Uribe. But does he stand a chance today? It’s too early to tell. It all depends on what Uribe decides. If Uribe is a candidate and Vargas stands against him, local pollsters predict Vargas would lose. But if Vargas were to stand against former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, it could prove to be a tight race.
Meanwhile, there’s been much speculation about whether Uribe will heed President Barack Obama’s recent advice and refrain from seeking a third term. During Uribe’s trip to Washington earlier this week, Obama insinuated that two consecutives terms in office is quite enough.
On Wednesday, the National Council of Radio and Television (Conartel) temporarily prohibited Teleamazonas, a private broadcast television network, from airing The Simpsons between 6:00am and 9:00 p.m. The government agency issued the suspension out of concern that the American animated television sitcom transmits content not suitable for children and young adults. Ecuadorian law mandates that all TV programs broadcast prior to 9:00 p.m. should be appropriate for the general public. Its ruling was sparked by the May 22 airing of “La Guerra de Lisa” and is in effect pending the results of an investigation by the National Council of Childhood and Adolescence.
Teleamazonas did not publicly address the decision and made no mention of it during the evening news broadcast. Those opposed to the government question Conartel’s motives because of the tensions between the government and the television network and the fact that the decree was aimed specifically at Teleamazonas. María Paula Romo, president of the Civil and Penal Commission of Ecuador, expressed her concern: “it [the government] has recently dictated a series of prohibitions and I am worried that the procedures are being taken lightly.”
Ecuador is the second country in the region to take a stand against Homer, Bart and the Simpson family. In April 2008, Venezuelan called the program “inappropriate” and banned it from morning television, only to be replaced by Baywatch.
It’s a shame for the people of Honduras that the country’s supreme court and military acted so clumsily to bundle the president, Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, off to exile in the middle of the night almost a week ago now. There is no getting over the visual images, which call to mind the worst excesses of extra-constitutional government across Latin America’s tumultuous history, leading directly to the vociferous and sustained outcry from across most of the political spectrum worldwide.
Those arguing that the Hondurans acted within their rights under their constitution miss the point. This is a fruitless line of argument that competes against every latent emotion now bursting to the forefront on Latin America. Whether or not it was technically legal, the coup in Honduras was ill-considered at best, and dramatically limited the options available to those seeking to shine the spotlight where it should be shone, squarely on the erratic and increasingly anti-democratic behavior of President Zelaya.
Honduras, que importa, right? Does this tiny Central American country warrant all this debate, discussion and media coverage?! Yes, it does, and the Obama administration is right to be defending democracy.
Due attention must be given to the dramatic developments there—not only for the historic regional implications of dealing with a twenty-first century military coup, but for the test of how the U.S. will now conduct its relations in the hemisphere.
Besides being a striking, unsettling reminder of the fragility of our region’s democratic institutions, the event brought to the fore how different the Obama administration’s approach to Latin America is from that of the Bush administration.
On day one, the Obama administration joined other Latin American governments by presenting a swift and unequivocal condemnation of President Manuel Zelaya’s expulsion and calling for his immediate return.
On June 29, President Obama went a bit further, calling the military’s actions a “coup” in his press availability with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe:
“President Zelaya was democratically elected. He had not yet completed his term. We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras, the democratically elected president there,” the chill president said.
Obama’s reaction—and that unity among hemispheric leaders of all political stripes—represents a departure from the Bush administration’s “go it alone” cowboy style, particularly in contrast to the U.S. reaction to the 2002 coup in Venezuela against President Hugo Chávez.
The Bush administration initially acknowledged a change of power there, and did not condemn the coup until it collapsed—unlike the quick condemnation by most Latin American governments. This placed the U.S. in a rather lonely and awkward spot as the only country in the hemisphere to suggest that coup was OK.
Another notable difference from the Bush administration’s approach comes with Haiti in 2004, when Democrats slammed the administration for what it called its failure to back ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This had sent a scary signal to democratically-elected governments in this hemisphere, and Chávez has since exploited these and other actions to his own advantage in rallying voters about the hypocrisy of the U.S. evil empire.
But, Obama’s cool remarks squelched Chávez’ initial flame-throwing to depict this as a U.S.-inspired coup. Of course, given U.S. history in Central America that accusation is far from outlandish, and Zelaya’s policies were not exactly in line with those of the United States.
Obama’s move to prioritize rule of law and democratic processes over Zelaya’s ideology and his own questionable actions to “win” another term in office over the constitutional objection of the Congress and Supreme Court effectively disarmed Chávez and bolstered U.S. credibility.
Still, there are legitimate challenges to Obama’s position and that is a subject of debate and even discomfort among some State Department officials. One concern is the administration’s invocation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. For one, is it hypocritical that the U.S. did not invoke the Charter’s principles during the debate over Cuban permission to re-enter the Organization of American States. And, why shouldn’t the U.S. hold Zelaya to these standards when he was arguably resorting to illegal means to convoke a referendum that could eventually lead to amending the constitution to stay in office?
It’s not so black and white.
But, going ahead with the referendum and not obeying the judiciary’s decision is not the same as a military coup! And an elected president’s actions do not warrant a military coup—even to prevent him from potentially using unlawful means to stay in power. Zelaya should be judged on his anti-democratic steps through a fair and free political process when he’s back in the country and in power again.
If Roberto Micheletti, the newly installed leader, stays in office, what signal does that send to Guatemala—a country struggling with its own political polarization in light of murder allegations against President Álvaro Colom?
That said, Obama’s ongoing condemnation of Zelaya’s expulsion, his calling the coup illegal and working with hemispheric organizations like the OAS and countries including Venezuela is a way for the U.S. to restore some of its lost credibility and leadership. And, hopefully also bring some stability back to a Central American country that is small but is still one of our free-trade partners.
The streets of Panama are empty today as millions await the inauguration of Ricardo Martinelli, winner of the May 3 elections with approximately 60 percent of the popular vote. Martinelli, a millionaire who owns the largest supermarket chain in Panama, has vowed to reform the education system and to give $100 pensions to seniors over age 70. He also has promised to combat crime and improve infrastructure, including a pledge to construct a modern subway system in the capital.
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya—currently in exile after last Sunday’s military coup—will be among the world leaders at the inauguration. Other attendees include: Mexican President Felipe Calderón, Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernández, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, and Felipe de Borbon, the heir to the Spanish throne.
Martinelli takes office amid high expectations. But some economists are skeptical whether he will be able to fulfill his promises due to the current economic crisis. One item that will certainly be on the agenda is moving forward the U.S.-Panama free-trade agreement.
Passage of climate change legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday was the United States’ first step in a more robust, forward-looking policy to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. But look to the other side of the Rio Grande and you’ll find a country that is showing new leadership in going green.
Yes, the outlook for Mexico may be somewhat grey these days if you're looking at the economic situation or the loss in tourism revenue. But Mexico is fast becoming one of Latin America’s best examples of how a government can address climate change and open the door for greater use of alternative energy.
Mexico’s role is quite welcome in a region that lags behind the world in terms of its investments in alternative renewable energy and in fighting climate change. In 2007, Latin America produced just 1.7 percent of global renewable energy, including wind, solar, geothermal, and small hydro energy. This correlated with the region’s ability to attract a meager 3 percent of the $87 billion globally invested in renewable projects. And while Latin America may not be a big contributor of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, climate change is intensifying tropical rains, tornados, hurricanes, and dry seasons across the world. Mexico and the rest of the region stand to lose out by not taking action now.
Former Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner (2003 to 2007) resigned from his position as leader of the Peronist party on Monday in the aftermath of Sunday’s defeat in national congressional elections. He was replaced by Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli. Mr. Kirchner also lost his own race for a congressional seat in Buenos Aires.
The Peronist government lost majorities in both the 72-member Senate and 257-member Chamber of Deputies (see full election results here). This came despite Mr. Kirchner warning voters that a Peronist loss would translate into “chaos” for Argentina, which has suffered from the global economic crisis. The party’s election losses, widely viewed as a plebiscite on the presidency of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, will hamper her ability to pass legislation through Congress and may create an opening for a new field of presidential candidates in 2011. She is now expected to re-shuffle her cabinet to put a fresh face on the administration.
The election took place four months earlier than was originally scheduled in what most analysts agree was the party’s attempt to consolidate power before the economic situation deteriorates further.
Just after 10:00 p.m. last night, the presidents of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) came together for an emergency meeting in Managua, Nicaragua, to discuss the military coup in Honduras. President Hugo Chávez assured the group that although the member states of ALBA will "do everything that we have to do" to bring President Zelaya back to Honduras and the presidency. This echoes the message from Washington, which has also called for “respect [of] the constitutional order.” The Venezuelan government clarified that it will not militarily intervene “because of the sacred respect for the sovereignty of Honduras."
The overall regional response has been one of solidarity with the ousted leader. The Rio Group, which includes 23 countries from the hemisphere, issued a statement condemning the coup and calling for Zelaya's "immediate and unconditional restoration to his duties." The foreign ministers of SICA (Central American Integration System) also held an emergency meeting and issued a statement strongly condemning the coup, stating that those in power are "against the constitutional and democratic government of President Manuel Zelaya.” The Organization of American States (OAS) called for the “immediate and unconditional return” of Zelaya to the presidency and will convene a Special Session of the OAS General Assembly on Tuesday . The OAS could potentially suspend Honduras from the organization under the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, which bans “the unconstitutional interruption of democratic order.”
For more information on the coup in Honduras, read Christopher Sabatini's June 29 blog post. The AS/COA has also published a resource guide to the evolving situation.
President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia comes back to Washington today—his 13th time here since being elected in 2002—to meet with President Obama following their face-to-face meeting at the April Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s an opportunity to set an agenda looking ahead across the broad range of issues confronting both nations. The pending trade agreement will be discussed, but with Uribe already planning a return trip to Washington in September specifically to lobby, the agenda for the meeting today will be broader, including, no doubt, a joint statement on Honduras.
That’s important, because Colombia has been willfully misrepresented by trade opponents and their allies in Washington as a human rights wasteland. On top of that, for the past several years U.S. policy has been characterized as one dimensional and as supporting a president who his opponents claim is a quasi-autocrat with caudillo, or strong-armed, tendencies, and who, for good measure, was too close to an unpopular U.S. president. The meeting today, together with their discussions in April, will show again that the Colombian president is a serious, thoughtful leader. It will also emphasize that the bilateral agenda with Colombia goes well beyond passage of one agreement, as important as that is, and that the U.S.-Colombia relationship is strong and enduring.
Let me say upfront, unequivocally: what occurred on June 28, 2009, in Honduras was a coup and should be condemned for the violation of constitutional, democratic rule that it is. And unlike the street coups that removed Presidents Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (Bolivia) or Lucio Gutiérrez (Ecuador), this one was positively 1970s-style retrograde: the marching of military officers into President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales’ residence, his forced removal (or kidnapping as he called it) at gun point, his being placed by military brass on a plane to be flown out of the country, and the swearing in of a new president, Roberto Micheletti—the speaker of the Honduran Congress. But let’s be clear. This event has been brewing for some time and regional governments and multilateral institutions have sat on the sidelines. Their reaction now—while correct—underscores their passiveness earlier, and turns a President who had been bent on steamrolling the checks and balances of power to secure re-election into an unnecessary victim.
Despite the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court’s superficial efforts to give this a constitutional fig leaf, the sacking of President Zelaya represents a genuine threat to the shared democratic vision and system of governance that most of the region has enjoyed for over two decades and violates the body of regional law and precedent defending democratic governments from the “interruption of the constitutional order.” In short order, as they should have done, the governments of the region have denounced President Zelaya’s removal and called for the restoration of democratic government.
With all the recent news on the conflict with indigenous groups in the Peruvian Amazon and the concerns over deforestation in Brazil, we forget that Latin America is an overwhelmingly urban region. It is estimated that by 2025, over 82 percent of the region’s population will live in urban areas. With these numbers it’s clear, it is cities—and cityscapes—that most affect the quality of life, economic and social mobility, health, and politics of citizens in our hemisphere.
Many of these urban areas are being stretched to their infrastructural limits by rapid growth. To look at how to best address these issues, the Urban Age project, a joint initiative by the London School of Economics and Political Science and the Alfred Herrhausen Society, is asking the question: How do we tackle modern urban challenges and imagine the cities of the future?
Professionals from a variety of disciplines, from sociologists, architects and planners to engineers, policymakers and political scientists have come together in a series of ongoing conferences throughout cities in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe. The project also has an advisory group that includes architect Enrique Norten, former mayor of Bogota Enrique Peñalosa and sociologist Saskia Sassen of Columbia University, among many others.
After a long phone conversation with President Bachelet, Arturo Herrera, the director of Chile’s Investigation Police, resigned only 4 months before his term was over. Herrera, who had been in the force for over 38 years, was accused on a national television program of being involved in an underage prostitution ring. Such accusations have prompted investigations on the former director, who is also believed to have had links to the secret police during the days of Augusto Pinochet.
In an interview with “El Mercurio,” Herrera claimed his resignation was his own initiative even after being under pressure for the last few days. President Bachelet has appointed Marco Vásquez Meza as his successor.
Ecuador’s Minister of Internal and External Security, Miguel Carvajal, requested financial aid from the United Nations Refugee Agency and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today to help assist Colombian refugees living in the country. With 135,000 refugees from Colombia’s 45-year-long civil war living within its borders, Ecuador receives more refugees than any other country in the Western Hemisphere. Carvajal estimated that Ecuador spends more than $50 million each year in health, education and energy costs related to its refugee population.
The Honduran Congress passed a new law on Tuesday, after an unusual late-night legislative session. The measure, called the Ley Especial que Regula el Referéndum y el Plebiscito, establishes specific restrictions on the power of the executive to call for national referendums by prohibiting plebiscites and referendums 180 days before or after a national election.
Prior to Tuesday’s development, President Zelaya had scheduled a vote for June 28 on whether to convene a constituent assembly to re-write the Honduran Constitution. Plans for the referendum provoked widespread criticism throughout Honduras, and were declared illegal by the Supreme Court, the Attorney General and the Human Rights Ombudsman, but President Zelaya vowed to press forward with the vote.
Zelaya has argued that social problems in Honduras are rooted in its current constitution. But opponents are worried that constitutional changes in other Latin American countries have eased re-election restrictions, expanded presidential powers and extended term limits. Opponents also argue the president is trying to pave the way for his own re-election. Zelaya's four-year term ends in early 2010 and current law requires him to step down.
En su último número, la revista CA$H publicó una lista de las 100 personas más influyentes de Bolivia. Se trata de una lista sesgada, pues la empresa que la lleva a cabo sólo consulta a 200 “líderes de opinión” en el eje troncal del país (La Paz, Santa Cruz y Cochabamba). Es, digamos, un pantallaza en el que no se encuentra representada la voz del boliviano medio. Aun así, la lista es útil porque permite ver qué es lo que la élite política y empresarial considera importante.
Los resultados dicen mucho acerca de la sociedad boliviana, más por los personajes que están excluidos que por los incluidos. Por ejemplo, llama la atención el porcentaje tan escaso de artistas, deportistas o escritores tomados en cuenta: apenas un músico, un futbolista, una pintora y dos historiadores. “En algún otro país, los deportistas, los artistas, los empresarios o las personas ajenas a la actividad y al discurso netamente políticos pueden llegar a la lista de los primeros, pero en Bolivia no. Esta es una sociedad politizada hasta la médula”, dice la revista.
Las mujeres continúan en la minoría: apenas 18 se abren espacio en el ranking, casi todas vinculadas a la vida política. El resto de los “pesos pesados”, los que ocupan los primeros lugares, pertenece a la clase política pura y dura: prefectos, dirigentes cívicos, ministros. No sorprende encontrar a Evo en el primer puesto, ni tampoco al vicepresidente García Linera en el tercero, o al gobernador de Santa Cruz, Rubén Costas, en el segundo. Eso sí, es grato descubrir a Savina Cuéllar en el séptimo lugar de la lista. La prefecta de Chuquisaca, una indígena quechua, es la única mujer en situarse entre los diez primeros puestos. Cuéllar ha sabido ganarse el respeto gracias a su consecuente oposición a Evo.
Otro dato revelador es el hecho de que, según la revista, “por primera vez desde que se realiza esta consulta no figura en la lista el embajador de turno de Estados Unidos”. Hasta la llegada de Morales al poder, todos los presidentes de Bolivia vivían pendientes de la opinión del embajador norteamericano con respecto a las decisiones internas. Ahora, el único personaje no boliviano que menciona el ranking es el presidente venezolano Hugo Chávez, en la posición 28.
Curioso, también, que se mencione a seis sacerdotes de la Iglesia católica. Pese a los esfuerzos de Evo Morales por minar la influencia de la Iglesia, el país continúa apegado al catolicismo. El cardenal Julio Terrazas (cuarto en la lista) ejerció como mediador entre los cocaleros y el gobierno antes de la llegada de Evo, y continúa siendo la figura más requerida para apaciguar las aguas en tiempos de crisis.
Es loable el empeño de CA$H por tomarle el pulso a lo que se considera un personaje influyente en Bolivia. Ojalá que la lista pueda ser más representativa en futuras ediciones. Para ello quizás sea necesario incluir las opiniones del boliviano medio en las encuestas, y también de quienes no viven en el eje troncal del país. Un desafío interesante sería ver cómo se puede “despolitizar” esta lista para hacer que también se consideren a los artistas y a los deportistas tan o más influyentes como los políticos. No estaría mal, por ejemplo, darle un vistazo a la forma en que la revista Time confecciona su lista de personajes influyentes del mundo.
Peru’s 2011 presidential election seems far off, but polling has already begun and Keiko Fujimori sits atop the leader board. Former President Alberto Fujimori’s daughter, a congresswoman in the Alliance for the Future Party, is the favorite likely candidate with the support of 22 percent of Peruvian voters. The poll was released yesterday by Ipsos APOYO, and is the result of 1,000 interviews conducted in 16 cities. Ollanta Humala, a 2006 presidential candidate, trails Ms. Fujimori by seven percentage points, and former President Alejandro Toledo (2001 to 2006) trails by ten points.
Ms. Fujimori’s ascension to national politics has sparked considerable controversy among opponents of her father, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence for human rights-related crimes committed during his tenure (1990 to 2000). In the past, Congresswoman Fujimori has stated that she would pardon her father if she wins the presidency, though she now appears less fully committed, saying she would not currently make a final decision about it. Also problematic for her presidential race are reports of financial ties to reviled spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos.
Commerce Minister Eduardo Samán announced on Saturday that “patents have become a barrier to production” and stymie access to medicine, placing the interests of multinational pharmaceutical companies ahead of the welfare and needs of the Venezuelan people. With President Hugo Chávez calling patents a “trap,” the government will now revise its patent system, annulling certain pharmaceutical patents and allowing domestic manufacturers to produce licensed medicines. This action follows a recent reform in intellectual property laws authorized by President Chavez.
In a press release issued by the Autonomous Service for Intellectual Property (SAPI), the “technical information” of patents licensed in Venezuela will be posted on the SAPI website so that anyone can “make use [of the information],” which would allow “Venezuelan technicians to improve new technologies that have been developed. ” The president of Venezuela’s pharmaceutical business chamber, Edgar Salas, said this could potentially scare off foreign investment, result in internal shortages of medicine and “create obstacles to importing the newest medicines.” Venezuela currently ranks at the third largest pharmaceutical import market in Latin America, estimated at $1.2 billion.
The latest pharmaceutical developments come on top of previous moves that have jolted the business community, namely nationalizations in the energy, concrete, telecommunications, and steel industries.
Stolen elections and ballot-box stuffing became such the norm in Mexico under the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) that observers used to say that even the dead rise and vote on election day. In the mid-term legislative elections on July 5, this time it may be the once-thought moribund PRI that rises from the dead. A newly resurgent PRI in Mexico’s bicameral congress will have consequences for the policy agenda (mostly positive) of President Felipe Calderón and his Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) and signal the decline of the leftist Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD)—under its current leadership, maybe not such a bad thing).
At stake in these elections are 128 seats in the Mexican Senate and all 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. If polls are to be believed, these elections may dramatically shrink the seats that the PRD gained in the 2006 elections. At the time, many believed this would be the trend, as Mexico appeared cleaved between the Right (PAN) and the Left (PRD). In the 2006 elections, the PRD scored 37 of the one-third-open Senate seats, compared to 57 for the PAN and 32 for the PRI. Most remarkable was that only six years earlier in the 2000 presidential/legislative elections the PRD only managed 17. In the lower-house elections in 2006, Mexico’s standard bearer for the Left, the PRD, did even better scoring 106 seats in the chamber, exceeding the 66 it won in 2000.
United Nation’s peacekeeping forces have been accused of shooting and killing an unidentified man at protests stemming from the funeral of Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste Wednesday in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Jean-Juste, 62, a close ally of exiled former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and head of the Miami-based Center for Haitian Refugees died earlier this month in Miami from complications from a stroke and respiratory problems. U.N. peacekeepers reportedly fired seven warning shots into a crowd of 2,000 mourners who were protesting the policies of President Rene Preval’s government and demanding the return of former-President Aristide from exile in South Africa.
One of these shots may have fatally wounded one of the rioters. The U.N., which confirms that warning shots were fired but denies responsibility in the incident, says that it was a hit from a rock—and not a bullet—that led to the victim’s death. Official fear this may lead to country-wide riots in days leading up to Senate elections on June 21.
What if Brazil held a key to saving the world from destroying itself through an inexorable process of man-made global climate change? Far-fetched? Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not. Having just returned from exploring energy issues in Brazil with experts from the policy, government and the private sectors, I’ve come back with some hard truths that must be addressed, and a better understanding of the role that Brazil can play in energy and climate change issues, but only if we get the market signals right
First, there’s no doubt that global energy demand will grow as incomes and populations increase. There is just no getting around the fact that energy demand could double—that’s right, double—by 2050. That’s only 40 years from now. Think of how quickly the last 40 years have gone, and understand that this is really not that far off.
That means current energy sources will be under significant strain to meet this growing demand. Alternative sources that are clean, plentiful and efficiently produced and delivered will be essential to develop and widely employ even as traditional fuels remain critically important for the foreseeable future. And in our drive to satisfy energy needs, the environment will be increasingly impacted, no matter what we do. The question will be whether we can find ways to mitigate the impact through conservation, energy efficiency and properly pricing the cost of energy, including the externalities created by energy usage.
Eight months later, the consequences of last November’s municipal elections continue to reverberate throughout Nicaragua. Now the latest victim is not the legitimacy of the democratic process but Nicaraguan citizens. And the government of Nicaragua is to blame.
Last week, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)—a U.S. government entity established in 2004 that ties aid to good governance, economic freedom and investments in people—announced that it would cut $62 million in aid to Nicaragua. This money, suspended a few weeks after the municipal elections, was part of a five-year, $175 million agreement (or compact) that was signed with the Nicaraguan government in July 2005.
The reason? MCC assistance only goes to “governments who are governing justly,” and according to MCC Acting Chief Executive Officer Rodney Bent, Nicaragua has not shown “meaningful reforms or progress” in this area. The MCC had been looking for the government of President Daniel Ortega to address the voting irregularities that helped his Sandinista candidates win the mayorship of Managua, and the country’s second city, León. In Managua, Alexis Arguello defeated Eduardo Montealegre (Ortega’s challenger in the 2006 presidential election) amid accusations of voter identity fraud and suspicious polling station tallies. For the first time in 20 years, independent observers were barred from monitoring the election.
On a visit to Colombia yesterday, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said that Bolivia would seek to re-establish formal diplomatic ties with Peru as soon as possible. In a statement, Mr. Choquehuanca attributed the change of stance to popular demand saying, “Our peoples want harmonious relations...government officials must obey our peoples’ wishes.” A deterioriation in relations led to Peru recalling its ambassador to Bolivia on Tuesday.
This was in response to comments earlier this week by Bolivian President Evo Morales, describing the Peruvian government’s response to recent unrest in the Amazon as a “genocide” caused by free trade. Prior to recalling its ambassador, Peruvian Foreign Minister José Garcia Belaunde labeled Mr. Morales “an enemy of Peru.” Other Peruvian officials have suggested that Bolivia was interfering in Peru’s domestic affairs by actively inciting protests by indigenous groups that have so far left at least 34 people dead.
A warming of the rhetoric between the two Andean neighbors could be a first step toward improving the bilateral relationship which some experts believe “has never been so bad.”
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Peru's PM to Resign, Push for End of Decrees that Sparked Amazon Conflict
Peruvian Prime Minister of Peru Yehude Simon announced that the government will ask congress to eliminate decrees 1090 and 1064, which are among the laws at the core of the violent clashes between protesters and police on June 5. Those clashes claimed dozens of lives. Simon also said that he would resign from office as soon after the stand-off with indigenous people in Peru’s Amazon was resolved. The government also granted permission for indigenous leader Alberto Pizango to leave the country after he was granted political asylum by the Nicaraguan government.
An Americas Quarterly web exclusive goes into detail about the set of controversial decrees and how they fueled popular discontent that led to the clashes. Furthermore, AQ offers ongoing coverage of the conflict in a dedicated “Issues In-Depth” section.
Yehude Simon announced yesterday on a local radio program that he would leave office once the conflict with the country’s indigenous population in the Amazon is resolved. The prime minister has been under pressure by the opposition after the June 5th protest left at least 30 civilians and 22 policemen dead. He has vowed to bring peace and stability back to the country before his resignation takes effect.
In recent days Simon has initiated dialogue with Daysi Zapata Fasabi, the leader of the indigenous protesters, and has slowly given in to her demands. The executive recently annulled two of the decrees that would have brought private sector encroachment on traditional indigenous lands. The prime minister announced that a bill revoking all of the remaining laws would be introduced in the Peruvian parliament today. Upon being criticized for changing his position Simon replied: "The government has to know how to listen …we have done the right thing. If the cabinet has to take a step back, we will take a hundred steps back for the country."
China’s chief trade negotiator entered into a third round of negotiations with his Costa Rican counterpart on Monday to establish a bilateral free-trade agreement. This latest round occurs only 7 months after Chinese President Hu Jintao announced the start of free-trade talks on a visit to San José in November 2008. Both countries say they hope to complete the agreement this year.
A free-trade accord between Costa Rica and China, which only established diplomatic ties in 2007, would be China’s third such agreement in Latin America. An agreement was ratified with Chile in 2005 and negotiations were concluded with Peru in 2008. China is especially interested in expanding ties with Latin American commodity exporters, an area that has seen two-way trade exceed $120 billion dollars per year.
Reports indicate that Beijing is offering to open its economy to 94.4 percent of Costa Rican products, with the notable exclusion of top exports like sugar and coffee. The Costa Ricans have held firm against liberalizing imports of textiles and machinery, a top Chinese concern. Both parties have affirmed their commitment to making progress in the negotiations, which are schedule to conclude on Wednesday.
Last night, 21 people were injured when a home-made bomb exploded at Largo do Arouche, a plaza in central São Paulo, Brazil. No serious injuries were reported, but it was one of several hate crimes reported during the annual Gay Pride parade—the world’s largest with an estimated 3 to 3.5 million people in attendance.
Activists called on the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) to support a bill in the Senate that classifies homophobia as a crime. On the issue of same-sex unions, only the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul recognizes their legality, but São Paulo Governor José Serra is a strong supporter of gay rights and has publicly declared his support. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva also supports same-sex unions and has expressed his distaste for homophobia calling it a “perverse disease” at the First National Conference of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transvestites and Transsexuals in Brasilia in 2008.
Debo confesar que, a pesar de haber seguido con muchísimo entusiasmo los procesos electorales de Chile en las últimas dos décadas, las elecciones presidenciales de este año me producían un enorme aburrimiento. Eso cambió cuando Marco Enríquez-Ominami apareció en escena. Paso a explicar.
La candidatura del millonario Sebastian Piñera por la Alianza opositora perdió la frescura novedosa que tuvo en el 2005. Eso importa mucho en un país donde, luego de un largo periodo de gobierno de la Concertación, existe mucha sed de cambio. En este contexto la vieja Concertación gobernante demostró que no fue capaz de renovarse y prepararse para el futuro, llevando como candidato al ex presidente de 67 años Eduardo Frei. Hasta ahí no había nada nuevo. Un país que fue capaz de convertirse en una sociedad moderna y pujante, no supo producir una renovación política para enfrentar los desafíos del futuro. Es cierto que la Concertación tiene mucho que ver con las cosas buenas que pasaron en Chile en los últimos años. Pero sus dirigentes envejecieron al abrigo del poder y parecen no tener nuevas ideas. Michelle Bachelet—que mantiene niveles altísimos de popularidad—fue una fuerte señal que demostró que la sociedad esta preparada para un cambio que la vieja dirigencia no quiere o no puede entender.
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe answered questions before
The session was at times contentious, with Uribe raising his voice and employing animated gestures to defend his administration’s record in promoting human rights. Not only would passage of the FTA improve his government’s ability to improve and protect human rights, argued Uribe, but “the approval of the free-trade agreement will allow Colombia to overcome poverty, build equity, have a dynamic economy and integrate the country to the largest economies of the world.”
Although both the Left and the Right in
What a difference a week can make. Only days before Peruvian cabinet minister Carmen Vildoso resigned in protest at the government’s handling of indigenous land rights protests, she was touring Huancavelica, the country’s poorest province, showcasing anti-poverty initiatives.
Listening to campesinos’ stories of growing papaya and salad greens at elevations of 12,300 feet (3,750 meters) thanks to basic agricultural training and provisions, Ms. Vildoso seemed to be enjoying a rare “good news” moment in her portfolio. The Mi Chacra Productiva (My Productive Land) program, though small-scale (an initial $3.4 million budget to benefit 7,000 families), has begun to have an impact in the remote town of Pampas, which is about an hour’s walk from one of the main routes traversed by people hauling cocaine paste out of the valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers. Employment opportunities here are minimal, and for many years residents of working age have had to move to Lima or to the regional capital of Huancayo to feed their families.
For the first time, a timid young mother told me, her family could feed itself and produce enough extra guinea pigs or eggs to sell at the local market, which meant her husband could stay with the family.
President Barack Obama is zipping along with nominations and appointments related to all things Latin America. I am not going to share a laundry list of every post coming from the administration, but here are some highlights and what people are saying.
First, Arturo Valenzuela. As I wrote here months ago, he was nominated as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs in May. Valenzeula, a Chilean-American, served at the State Department and the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton and was an adviser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
If confirmed by the Senate, he’ll be leaving his current job as director of the Center for Latin American Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. His expertise is democratization, security issues, and of course, Chile. And, he really knows how to deal with the media. That’s important.
Trade unionists in Colombia continue to face intense harassment, despite government efforts to increase protection. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) published a report yesterday, citing Colombia as the world’s most dangerous place for trade unionists. The death toll in 2008 rose to 49 union-related deaths, up from 39 in 2007.
At a meeting in Canada on Wednesday, President Álvaro Uribe said that the Colombian government is "working every day to overcome impunity,” and highlighted a government program that spends $40 million per year to protect 10,000 individuals. Vice-Minister for Labor Relations Ana Lucia Noguera pointed out that union member killings had fallen 81 percent in the last seven years. Only 4 percent of Colombian workers are members of a trade union.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Political Fallout in Peru after Bloody Clash
Indigenous protesters and police forces clashed in Peru’s northern Amazon region over the weekend in a violent clash that claimed dozens of lives on both sides. The unrest followed months of demonstrations against a set of decrees that protesters said violated their ancestral claims on land and resources in the region. The Minister for Women and Social Development Carmen Vildoso resigned as a result of the controversy over the government’s handling of the clashes. Indigenous leader and head of the Inter-ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle Alberto Pizango was granted political asylum by the Nicaraguan government on June 8, after the government accused him of inciting violence against the police on June 5.
Antonio Salido and Alfonso Escalante—officials in Mexico’s Sonora state government—resigned yesterday as the investigation continued after Friday’s massive fire at a local day care center owned by their wives. The men resigned to “avoid any type of speculation [and] to allow for a better clarification of events,” according to a statement read by Salido. Witnesses to the day care fire said that the fire alarm did not sound and that emergency doors failed to open.
The fire started in an air conditioning unit of an adjacent warehouse and took the lives of over 44 children, injuring an additional 38 children. It has once again raised questions in Mexico about building safety. In 2000, a disco fire in Mexico City killed 21 people.
Parents claim that the center obtained permits through the influence and help of Salido and Escalante. In response, Salido issued a statement claiming that the building’s infrastructure followed regulations established by the Mexican Institute of Social Security and passed all previous inspections. Governor Eduardo Bours of Sonora state welcomed the resignation, and further emphasized that their positions would not alter the investigation about the origins of the fire and the legitimacy of the center’s safety inspections.
Last Wednesday, to much fanfare, the Organization of American States' (OAS) annual meeting of the hemisphere's foreign ministers issued a resolution calling for a dialogue to readmit Cuba to the region's premier diplomatic body. Despite all the atmospherics, the statement sealed the OAS's irrelevance and the most promising chapter in the regional organization's history.
Both sides in last week's theater are claiming victory. On the pro-Cuba side, the governments of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua wasted no time in sending their foreign ministers to declare the resolution that overturned the 1962 rationale for Cuba's suspension—as a Marxist-Leninist government—as a blow to the U.S.'s embargo policy. In a parallel media blitz, U.S. officials rushed to say that the consensus agreement did not readmit Cuba into the OAS, but only called for dialogue in line with "practices, proposals and policies of the OAS."
The latter is supposedly a reference to the human rights and democracy requirements for membership, set out in a number of OAS documents including the 2001 Inter-American Demoratic Charter—heralded at one time as the greatest achievement of the OAS. Now, unfortunately, it's relegated to an oblique reference. Despite the U.S.'s efforts to put the best face on this, the reality is that the final document failed to include explicit mention of the issues detailed in the charter, such as respect for human rights and democracy—topics that the U.S. had insisted be included.